Our Work with the Underprivileged

Project Umeed

Much has been said about employing women being the first step to empowering them. As much has been said about examining our consumption habits and the imperative to move to greener alternatives. And lately, menstrual hygiene and its challenges have occupied much space in the collective conscious, especially as major deterrents in education and employment opportunities for women. In our country the number of women using sanitary napkins is merely 12%. The data is even more horrific if we shift towards semi-urban, peri-urban and rural settlements. There exists a strong correlation between the drop-out rate for school going girls and attaining puberty.

Was there a possible synergy between the three? Could something be done?

This year, we started ‘Umeed’, a project that aims to provide employment for women with disabilities as well as for women from an underprivileged background through the production of biodegradable sanitary napkins. Women from both groups often stay unemployed or underemployed due to lack of opportunities in the mainstream. Our mission is to make the biodegradable sanitary pads and to make it available for girls and women from all caste and class, especially in rural areas.

Two centres have been started, one in the premises of Arushi in Bhopal and the other in Kalahandi, Odisha. Our own manufacturing unit in Arushi produces approximately 500 sanitary napkins in a day which are chemical-free and 100% biodegradable. In a first, Arushi has collaborated with Indian Railways to install vending machines for sanitary napkins at Bhopal station and at Gandhinagar, the only railway station in the country staffed and run only by women.

Apart from making sanitary napkins, the Arushi team has also undertaken community awareness sessions revolving around menstrual health and hygiene where sanitary napkins were distributed in the anganwadis and health centres of villages around Bhopal.

This project is not only our attempt at creating opportunities for this neglected segment of the workforce but also our green initiative that opens doors for women and adolescent girls by creating opportunities for them to step out beyond their homes.

Taleem Democratic School

Taleem is an apt name for a free program which is an extension of what Arushi stands for- make it a bit better! It is not about working with underprivileged children but about creating an environment where children representing our community learn, grow and develop together so that they can appreciate the differences we have as a community. It is our hope that this helps create a community that is more experiential, experimental, focused on learn by doing and is less risk averse.

We want to go beyond educating children to providing them skills for a source of livelihood. For their educational qualifications, they will be given knowledge and access to open schooling where they will be writing exams so that they are not left behind in the current system. Yet, the primary focus will be on learning new skills.

The centre will focus not only on academic classes but also conduct research and teach organic farming, fishery, dairy farming, animal husbandry, horticulture and computer skills. Students will be taught co-curricular activities like music, sports, dance and theatre. The scheduled is designed in such a manner that they students play, learn and experiment, all in one day.

At Taleem we are also conducting a research to understand the effect of migration on education and livelihood of the communities to which the students belong.

Why ‘Democratic’?

Children themselves own and drive what they learn and grow with, thus developing a sense of responsibility and accountability.

It’s not just about clearing exams. Taleem is about learning and developing life skills and most importantly, common sense.